Carpe Diem Wine Bar and Restaurant: still producing Grade A innovation and flavor.

Only a ten minute walk from Napa’s luxury Bed and Breakfast Inn, The Inn On First, is Carpe Diem Wine Bar and Restaurant; what we call a “small plates restaurant”, meaning you order to share.  Where else can you be tempted by the daily taco of the day (filet mignon with pomegranate glaze, or shrimp pad thai, or pulled pork with a chipotle sauce, or lamb with pickled slaw- every bite delicious!) that changes all the time according to the chef’s inventiveness and seasonal ingredients.

I’m a fan of their pork steam buns, the short ribs, and their filet mignon with red rice cake.  Yet by the time you get there these may be gone and replaced with some other yummy dish for you to choose.  The fried olives are still a favorite of mine, and the truffled popcorn is downright addictive.  You swear you will stop eating it, and yet your hands keep reaching.  Jamie loved the brussell sprouts flatbread (you know I’m a hater so I don’t touch the stuff!), and the soft housemade burrata with olive oil drizzle and toast points is always fun.

This restaurant is fun, exciting, and always busy, so reservations are a must.  With so many wines by the glass, too, it makes it really interesting to try new wines with these dishes.  We’ve even had guests return two nights in a row just so they could try out other dishes and different wines.  Stephanie and Scott, Owners, Hostess and Chef, make this must-eat stop in Napa.  Oh, and seriously, if they ever take the Twix Bar off the dessert menu I might consider picketing the establishment.

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Brix Restaurants: when you want a lovely garden to sit in for lunch

Only a fifteen minute drive from The Inn On First, a romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is Brix Restaurant.  As my friend Donna Kaz was in town from NYC I wanted her to experience the beauty that the Brix Gardens enjoys while dining on incredible food.

Asparagus Salad Brix Butter Lettuce Salad Brix Brix Garden View

 

 

 

 

As it was a bit later in the afternoon when we arrived (2 pm) we were practically alone on the patio for lunch.  With spring blossoms everywhere in sight, as well as bud break beginning to show on the vines all around, the place could not have been more welcoming.  We ordered the cold beet soup with a vegan base and a beautiful floral design of creme fraiche on top.  It was a perfect accompaniment to a warm spring day.  I ordered the asparagus salad, with a variety of white and green asparagus, and a light lemony dressing with petite brioche croutons.  So far the meal was perfect.

Donna enjoyed the house salad with butter lettuce, english peas, and a garlic-yogurt dressing, although we were both sorely tempted by the tempura fried green beans and the steak tartare.  The dungeness crab salad was tempting, but we tried to keep it light.  We decided to split the lamb sandwich on housemade focaccia bread with the most lovely crisp french fries (okay, so maybe we tried to keep it partially light!).  The bacon pizza looked delicious as we saw it delivered near us, as did the lamb bolognese.

Prices range from $8 to $18, for soups, appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, and main entrees.  If you are here during the busier summer months I would suggest making a reservation and tell them you want to sit on the garden patio.  If you ate my breakfast  that morning you probably won’t be hungry again until 2 pm, which is a great time to sit and enjoy an afternoon break from wine tasting.

Celadon: a Mediterranean style restaurant in the neighborhood

A 15-minute walk from The Inn On First, a luxury lodging Bed and Breakfast Inn, is Celadon, a restaurant celebrating Mediterranean cuisine.  Friends had come into town and it had been awhile since we enjoyed the cooking of Greg Cole, executive chef and owner. As they are one of the few restaurants with a full bar we imbibed in cocktails to begin and sat and enjoyed the beautiful dining room.  Personally, I am not a fan of the outdoor patio area with its concrete floors.  It does have a large fireplace in the center and is surrounded by shrubbery, but I think the main dining room is beautiful, romantic, and elegant in feel with its booths, carpeted floors, and well-appointed artwork on the walls.

We ordered the Calamari with its sweet and spicy chipotle sauce- someone recently referred to it as Rhode Island style.  I’ve never heard of this before, but I loved every crunch bite, especially with the bits of pickled ginger.  The duck salad was phenomenal and the seasonal vegetable soup was rich in flavor and chock full of veggies.  Jamie ordered the pasta with lamb bolognese and it was incredible.  I ordered the pork porterhouse that was grilled and it was huge!  Much more than I could eat, but I knew I would enjoy it the next day at lunch.  Yes, dessert was ordered: the lemon pie.  Light, refreshing, and tart, with a buttery crust.  A perfect ending to the meal.

You’ll find a wide variety of fish and meats to choose from, as well as salads and starters to satisfy pretty much everyone: pork belly, crab cakes, beef satay, coconut prawns, grilled duck breast, flatiron steak, and stuffed chicken breast.  Prices for starters run from $9 to $18 and entrees from $14 to $40.  See http://www.celadonnapa.com for more information.

Il Posto: family owned Italian for those who want a homestyle experience

Il Posto is an Italian restaurant that sits about 10 minutes from The Inn On First, a romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn.  Plastic table cloths.  Plastic water glasses.  All the wonderful makings of a small restaurant that is family owned and run, and has that old-style feel of a neighborhood kitchen.  We all have them in our neighborhoods- the place where people just want some good food and to be surrounded by good people.  Il Posto is just that. Even their website proclaims it:

Il Posto: “The Place” we celebrate family, friends, food and life, the traditional italian way.

We went with friends from Napa and enjoyed the hospitality of the owners beginning with the antipasti platter to share.  How much fun to see a large platter of meats, cheeses, and olives come out and be passed around the table.  After that we knew we would share everything: Caesar and arugula salads, orecchietti with italian sausage , spaghetti and meatballs, chicken marsala, ravioli, and eggplant parmigiana.  The food was fun and delicious. This is not a “foodie” restaurant nor a place for a romantic night on the town.  This is a down home Italian family restaurant where you can sit, relax, and feel you are part of the family without breaking the bank.  First courses range from $6 to $12, and entree from $12 to $24.

French Blue: if you’re in St. Helena and want to enjoy a nice lunch.

Just 15 miles north of The Inn On First, a luxury Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is the town of St. Helena, and right on main street (Hwy 29) lies a small restaurant called French Blue.  All white with blue trim.  (CLOSED TUE).  We had the option of eating a late breakfast or ordering off the standard lunch menu.

Jamie chose the soup, a puree of celery root with a drizzle of creme fraiche and we both enjoyed sharing that dish.  To begin I ordered the lunch salad of roasted beets with candied hazelnuts.  It was delicious.  For his main course Jamie chose eggs in tomatillo sauce on corn tortillas and thought the tomatillo sauce was a perfect accompaniment to the eggs.  I wanted the breakfast special with a flatbread with prosciutto and eggs (I love when other people cook me breakfast!), but I could see other plates coming out from the kitchen and wondered if I should have been more adventurous: rabbit rillettes terrine, chicken paillard, lamb tenderloin, and shrimp with harissa butter.

As a lunch stop I think this could be a wonderful afternoon pitstop to enjoy some great food in a fun ambience while you are in between wineries in northern Napa Valley.  Reservations are a must, unless you want to wait for 45 minutes or more for a table.  Prices range from $8 to $12 for starters and $9 to $25 for entrees.  Visit  http://www.frenchbluenapa.com for more information.

Revisiting Grace’s Table: well worth a second look.

A five minute walk from The Inn On First, a romantic Napa Valley Bed and Breakfast Inn, is a restaurant called Grace’s Table.  A local’s hangout that is open for both lunch and dinner.  I must admit that the first I went I wasn’t terrible impressed, and then Jamie went with some friends and came home raving about the food- how much it improved since we were there last.

So off we went for an afternoon brunch in the middle of the week, and I was really impressed.  I ordered fish tacos and they were superb.  Homemade tortillas filled with white fish and a spicy remoulade-type sauce that knocked my socks off.  I was going to take some home but I couldn’t stop eating them.  Jamie ordered the Tamale with pork in red sauce and that, too, was delicious.  Now I can’t wait to go back to try their cassoulet, or their lamb meatballs with pasta, or the quiche of the day.  Salads and first courses run $6 to $9, and entrees from $12 to $24.  The restaurant is a little short on ambience, so I wouldn’t expect to have a romantic evening here; rather, some great food with some good conversation over a bottle of wine.  It would be perfect.

The Fremont Diner: a hidden lunch gem in the Carneros region

About a 15-minute ride from The Inn On First, a luxury Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is a small restaurant called The Fremont Diner.  Don’t expect cloth tablecloths or napkins.  Look for wooden tables, picnic tables outdoors in the afternoons, and a small counter that overlooks the kitchen (my favorite spot).  It has its own ambience of being homey and very, very down to earth.  Ribs, chicken, steak, homemade biscuits, grits, pecan pie, pumpkin pie.  This is diner food with upscale southern roots: chicken and waffles, mac and cheese, baked beans, collard greens, sweet potato fries, fried brussel sprouts.  And expect it to be crowded.  The word has been out on this place for awhile.

We sat at the counter as we wanted to watch all the action. While there we watch the pastry chef put together a pecan pie, and then chocolate chip cookies, and a bourbon-glazed pound cake.  It’s a wide open kitchen and gives you access to what they are doing.    This is a great lunch spot and we would recommend it to anyone who is spending time in the Carneros region that crosses both Napa and Sonoma borders.  It’s open from 8 am to 3 pm every day, and is open for dinner Thu-Sat, until 9 pm.  Visit their website for more information:  http://thefremontdiner.com.